Photographs by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn instructs his players during practice Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE -- Lance Harter looked at the incoming number on his cell phone and didn't recognize it.
"When I saw the number, I said, 'Who do I know in Myrtle Beach? Why is someone from there calling me?' " said Harter, who is in his 28th year as the Arkansas Razorbacks' women's cross country and track and field coach. "I had no idea."
Turned out the mystery caller wasn't a telemarketer.
It was Hunter Yurachek, the new athletic director at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
Yurachek, hired Monday from the University of Houston, called Harter on Tuesday morning less than 24 hours after being on the job for Arkansas.
"That was really classy," Harter said. "I know where I sit on the totem pole, and obviously he just got appointed and he's probably trying to get his bearings and get his family aware of what's going to happen next.
"So for him to reach out to me and chat a little bit means a lot. I was mega-impressed. Absolutely amazed he called me so fast.
"He was very complimentary of our program and said he was looking forward to getting an opportunity to sit down at lunch or dinner and talk about the future. I called my wife right away and said, 'I just want you to know this is the type of guy we just hired.' "
Yurachek apparently kept a cell phone with a Myrtle Beach, S.C., number from his days as Coastal Carolina's athletic director before he was hired at Houston. He called several Arkansas coaches Tuesday and met with the entire athletic department staff Wednesday morning before his introductory news conference.
"My first impression of Hunter is great," said Dave Van Horn, who is going into his 16th season as Arkansas' baseball coach. "I just feel like he's very down to earth."
Van Horn said he called some of the baseball coaches who have worked with Yurachek -- whose stops in addition to Coastal Carolina and Houston include Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wake Forest, Western Carolina and Akron -- to get a scouting report on his new boss.
"All the coaches I talked to had a lot of good things to say about him as an athletic administrator, and then just as a person, socially," Van Horn said. "It was just great to hear the way people feel about him.
"Whenever you're getting comments such as, 'boy, you're getting a good one,' or, 'we hate to lose him,' that's a good sign right there. That's what has impressed me."
Yurachek met with the Arkansas coaches and athletic department staff members for about 20 minutes Wednesday.
"He looks like a five-star recruit to me," said Chris Bucknam, who is in his 10th year as the Razorbacks' men's cross country and track and field coach. "He seems like he's a winner, and that's what Arkansas deserves.
"I'm looking forward to working with him. He seems very sincere. I've been coaching for 38 years and I've worked with a number of athletic directors, and you get to be pretty good at drawing first impressions, and I have no question he passed that eyeball test.
"That first impression was meaningful. I'm excited to be able to work with him and help evaluate what we're doing here at Arkansas. My instincts tell me this is an outstanding hire."
Mike Anderson, the seventh year Arkansas' men's basketball coach, said he talked to Yurachek briefly Tuesday.
"I'm looking forward to him joining our family and leading us," Anderson said. "I think we're in a good position and him coming in will give us an opportunity to go beyond that.
"I'm looking forward to having an opportunity to work with him and continue to build championships here in Razorback country."
Jon Fagg, Arkansas' associate athletic director for development and administration, said the staffers have done their own research on Yurachek.
"Everything I've heard is he's just a wonderful person," Fagg said. "Really hard worker. He told us in our opening meeting that he's a clean freak, which is probably not so good for me and that's all right, I'm a little messy.
"You can just really tell that he's genuine. He cares. He made a point for us to all know that he's going to try to get to know each and every one of us as individuals, try to know our families, all those kind of really personal things. Which means a lot with a new boss coming in. So we're really looking forward to having him."
Chris Freet, an associate athletic director for external operations and communications, said he talked to a good friend who has worked with Yurachek.
"He raves about him," Freet said. "I got to spend a little bit of time with him and his wife [Tuesday] night and they can't be more excited to be here. Which they'll find that Fayetteville is better than expectations, like most of us have found."
Mike Neighbors, a Greenwood native who returned to the state last spring from Washington to be Arkansas' women's basketball coach, said Yurachek called and left him a voicemail Tuesday when Neighbors was out of town on a recruiting trip.
"We know what his call sheet is on that day, because a lot of people want to talk to him," Neighbors said. "So for him to have us as coaches that far up the list backs up everything that everybody has said about him in that he really is a people person."
Neighbors flew home in time to listen to Yurachek's news conference as he was driving to the Arkansas campus from the airport.
"He got me fired up," Neighors said. "He strikes me as a real genuine person who really cares about the student-athletes. I think that's really important around here, because that's the culture we've had.
"I've heard so many things from people not in the Razorback family -- people at places he's been before, people he's worked with -- and they're all telling me I should be looking forward to this opportunity, and I am."
Yurachek replaced Jeff Long, who was fired Nov. 15 after nearly 10 years as Arkansas' athletic director. The search lasted 19 days.
"It's good to have that job completed and have somebody on board that we're excited about," Harter said. "Obviously, he's got a reputation for getting things done and getting good coaches and helping them win championships."
Van Horn was glad to hear Yurachek say that during his 100 days on the job he plans to travel around Arkansas to meet fans, listen to them and learn about the state.
"This state is unique," Van Horn said. "We don't have an NFL team, we don't have a Major League Baseball team.
"We have the Razorbacks. There are a lot of eyes on your program, there are a lot of people that care, there's a lot of emotion.
"For Hunter to go out and about and meet as many people as he can, I think it just helps everybody."
Tom Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette staff contributed information for this story
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